Students and staff from Maverick High School held a reconciliation walk in downtown Swift Current on Oct. 23 to raise awareness about Chanie Wenjack and the legacy of residential schools.
Wenjack, a 12-year-old Anishinaabe boy, died from hunger and exposure after he ran away from a residential school near Kenora, Ontario. He was found next to a railway track on Oct. 23, 1966, a week after he escaped from Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School. He was trying to walk more than 600 kilometres to his home.
The Maverick School walk took place on a wet and cold day with rain and freezing fog until late morning.
“I think it’s perhaps appropriate that the weather is what it is today, because Chanie ended up dying from exposure,” social studies teacher Scott Hunter said. “He was found with seven matches in a jar in his pocket and with a very thin coat.”
The walk was an opportunity for participants to reflect on reconciliation. In the afternoon the animated film The Secret Path was screened at the school. This film about Chanie Wenjack was produced by Canadian musician Gord Downie as part of a multimedia project to promote reconciliation.
Hunter felt it is important for students to know Canadian history and to understand the impact of the residential school system.
“We have in our group today and in our school at large, a large percentage of First Nations students, and so I think it’s important that we bring awareness about the history of residential schools to this generation,” he said. “I think we’re doing a better job today than we have in years past about bringing awareness to it, and this generation I feel is going to be the first to really understand the true scope of the horrors that were committed during the residential school system. So I hope that by doing this today, we bring some awareness about what happened, and more importantly what we can do to repair that relationship and move forward together.”
This walk and efforts to promote reconciliation and a better understanding of the past fits in with Maverick School’s broader goal to create a safe learning environment where students can grow.
“We want to create a community of empathy and understanding and camaraderie,” he said. “I think through a shared understanding of our past we can get a fuller and more complete picture of where people came from, some of the issues they may be affected by, and again, the most important thing for us is to move forward with a focus on reconciliation, with a focus on bringing about a positive change to repair some of the damage that has been done in the past.”
Maverick School is participating in the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund legacy schools program, which is a national initiative to empower students and educators to further reconciliation through awareness, education and action.
“That just means that we have committed ourselves to reconciliation,” Hunter explained. “The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund was set up to bring about awareness and bring about reconciliation, and we as a legacy school are taking steps to make that real. It’s easy to say that we want a better world, but to make that happen you have to do something, and so this was our small gesture to try and bring about some change.”
Over 1,300 schools across Canada have already signed up to the legacy schools program. Participating schools receive a legacy schools toolkit with resources to engage students, staff, and the school community to take meaningful action towards reconciliation.
The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund’s second annual Secret Path Week took place from Oct. 17-22. There were educational and Walk for Wenjack events during the week to create awareness about the history and impact of residential schools.